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  • Jessica Frizzell, PA-C

What is a Rheumatic Disease?

Updated: Aug 15



Rheumatic diseases, autoimmune diseases, arthritis, and osteoarthritis. Let’s discuss the similarities and differences throughout this article.


As defined by the Mayo Clinic, “Rheumatic diseases are autoimmune and inflammatory diseases that cause your immune system to attack your joints, muscles, bones and organs.”


You can often hear the two terms - rheumatic disease and autoimmune disease - used interchangeably, leading to the follow-up question, “What is an autoimmune disease then?”


MedlinePlus explains: “Your immune system protects you from disease and infection by attacking germs that get into your body, such as viruses and bacteria. Your immune system can tell that the germs aren't part of you, so it destroys them. If you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system attacks the healthy cells of your organs and tissues by mistake.”


Did you know there are more than 200 rheumatic diseases? That means there are more than 200 diseases known to specifically attack a person’s organs, cells, and tissues.


In fact, more than 24 million people in the United States are affected by one, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.


The most well-known rheumatic diseases are names you might recognize, such as:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Lupus

  • Scleroderma

  • Sjogren’s syndrome

  • Psoriatic arthritis

  • Gout and pseudogout

  • Fibromyalgia


Some not-so-familiar diseases are:

  • Polymyalgia Rheumatica

  • Henoch-Scholein purpura

  • Ankylosing spondylitis

  • Behcet’s syndrome

  • Polyarteritis nodosa


It is important to remember that while the term “arthritis” is associated with some of these rheumatic diseases, the most common form of arthritis - osteoarthritis - is NOT related to an autoimmune disease.


Why so?


Arthritis that is brought on by an autoimmune disease, like rheumatoid arthritis, occurs when the synovial membrane that protects a joint becomes inflamed. This leads to pain, swelling, and inflammation surrounding the actual tissues that line and lubricate your joints.


Osteoarthritis involves the wearing away of the cartilage that cushions the ends or caps of your bones. That is why osteoarthritis is often referred to as a wear and tear disease.


So yes, the joints deteriorate and become inflamed when you have osteoarthritis, just like they would with a rheumatic disease. The difference is that the resulting pain and inflammation are not caused by the same underlying reason, and the actual joint erosion is happening in different ways.


Battling arthritis is only one potential component of a rheumatic disease, though. Other parts of the musculoskeletal system can be impacted as well, including a person’s muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments.


With rheumatic diseases, no two people will experience identical symptoms. Even patients diagnosed with the same condition will not encounter the same problems.


Autoimmune diseases don’t play by an exact set of rules.


Treating rheumatic diseases requires an individualized approach.


At Paducah Rheumatology, we understand that every patient is unique and requires personalized treatment.


Rheumatic diseases are difficult to treat. Living with an autoimmune disease is life changing.


Our team at Paducah Rheumatology provides customized solutions based upon the individual needs of our patients.


As our patient, we will take the time to address your specific concerns and develop a treatment plan designed just for you!


Schedule your NEW PATIENT APPOINTMENT today by calling 270-408-6100.


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